Medical errors continue to dog healthcare

By Madelyn Kearns
09:55 AM
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A new Wolters Kluwer Health Survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers revealed that nearly one third of Americans (30 percent) have experienced a medical mistake either firsthand or from a third-party. A majority (68 percent) believe that as the medical field continues to adopt new technologies, medical errors will decrease.

Seventy-three percent of respondents expressed concern about medical errors, with nearly half (45 percent) characterizing their distress as significant (“very”). Anxieties fluctuated based on age and sex, with older consumers aged 35-54 expressing more apprehension than younger contributors (76 percent vs. 66 percent), and women out-worrying men by eight percentage points (76 percent vs. 68 percent). No matter how it’s sliced, very few people are dismissing lapses made by physicians, medical personnel or other healthcare providers.   

"What is clear from survey findings is that there is a high level of concern among American consumers about medical mistakes, which could impact the doctor-patient relationship as well as how consumers approach their own healthcare," Linda Peitzman, MD, chief medical officer, Wolters Kluwer Health, said in a press release. "Clinical decision support tools can play a significant role in reducing instances of medical errors and improving communication among parties involved in a patient's care. Studies have shown that hospitals that adopt certain clinical decision support systems experience shorter hospital lengths of stay, reduced mortality rates and overall improvements in quality of care."

Whereas over one-third of survey participants (35 percent) believe most medical errors occur amongst hospital staff, Peitzman said hat this issue is by no means just contained to operating rooms and ER hallways; it’s a problem on the primary care table as well. 

“We [Wolters Kluwer Health] believe that these survey results can apply to practices of any size in that the poll was performed on a large sample size of adult patients who presumably see physicians in a variety of practice sizes,” Peitzman noted. “From our perspective, Wolters Kluwer Health is focused on the area of point of care, and equipping clinicians with tools and resources that help them make informed decisions about a diagnosis or treatment.  Advances in point-of-care resources and technologies can positively impact physician practices of all sizes, not only by reducing errors and improving efficiencies, but also by improving overall quality of care.”

Other cause for error was attributed to doctors and nurses being rushed (26 percent), staff being fatigued (14 percent) and hospitals/practices experiencing staffing shortages (12 percent).

Patient partakers said they were doing their part to nullify the chances of medical mistakes by conducting their own research to validate doctor diagnoses (66 percent), obtaining second opinions regarding treatment plans and prescriptions (56 percent), and writing down instructions for their physicians and nurses (36 percent).

The blind Omnibus survey was designed to be a nimbus for all healthcare providers, but Peitzman insisted that physicians in particular come away with two key aspects:

“The first is that consumers are worried about medical mistakes, and being aware of this presents an opportunity for physicians and nurses to address fears during office visits and prior to procedures. This could positively impact the doctor-patient relationship. The second, and most important, is that adopting the right solutions at the point of care not only can reduce instances of medical errors — as well as improving patient outcomes and quality of care — but can also help allay patient fears about medical errors.”

The consensus is clear across medical regions — scrubs and slip-ups don’t mix. The road to medical error prevention, albeit complex, is one that relies on enhancing communication, technological drive and teamwork.

“A key way that physicians and medical staff can help alleviate instances of medical errors is through the adoption of the right point-of-care resources and technologies, which can have numerous positive impacts on a medical practice,” Peitzman said.

Other pertinent findings of the survey were listed as follows:

  • Nearly one in five, 19 percent, of Americans have delayed having a procedure for a day when the doctor may be more focused or rested (i.e., not scheduling on the weekends or late in the week).
  • Eighteen percent have asked a doctor/nurse to wash their hands.
  • Women (87 percent) are more likely than men (81 percent) to have made an effort to minimize medical mistakes.
  • More than half of adults (55 percent) between the ages of 35 and 54 report that they have received an incorrect healthcare bill.
  • The majority of those Americans surveyed, 68 percent, believe that as the medical field continues to adopt new technologies, medical errors should decrease.